An outcome statement is an assertion, or promise. It’s something that a student will have learned, gained, practiced, exhibited, or demonstrated as a result of completing your course. Outcome statements are measurable. There is a way to view and judge the student’s progress towards attaining the outcome. Course outcomes may look like this:
As a result of taking this class, students will:
Each outcome statement is self-contained and focused on a particular skill, concept, or idea. For example, one outcome is about interface visualizations, another on system and service modeling, and so-on. Each outcome stands alone.
Each outcome statement is measurable, and well-structured outcome statements can be measured by looking at the things a student makes. For example, the outcome statement about visualizing interface ideas through hand-drawn sketches can be measured in a variety of ways:
Was the student able to visualize ideas quickly? This can be assessed by keeping track of how long it takes the student to draw. Were they faster at the end of the course than they were at the beginning? Were they as fast as a concrete benchmark (for example, 10 sketches an hour)?
Were the student’s ideas realistic? This can be assessed by looking at what the student sketched to identify if it can actually be built, or if it is based on a sound set of assumptions. Were the ideas technically infeasible to build? Did the ideas come accompanied by explanations to justify their realism?
Was the student able to use hand-drawn sketches? This can be assessed by looking at the mechanism the student selected to create the interfaces. Did they use paper and pen, or did they jump right to a digital tool like Adobe Illustrator?
A semester or quarter-length course typically has 3-5 outcome statements. A larger number of outcomes becomes harder to assess, and teaching towards so many outcomes can become watered-down or shallow.
To create my course outcomes, I start by identifying the things I want a student to know how to do. I don’t worry about wordsmithing the perfect outcome statement; I just list the skills that, when the course is over, I want the student to have. Design is a practitioner field, and when students graduate, they should have a set of practical real world skills. So, whenever possible, I try to capture specific active skills—things someone can do—instead of simply passive skills—things someone can know or feel.
This often takes several iterations. For example, in crafting the outcome statement “Be able to quickly develop realistic ideas for interfaces using hand-drawn sketches”, my first few iterations may look like this:
Learn to think about sketching
Learn to sketch
Learn to sketch quickly
Learn to think about interfaces
Learn to sketch interfaces by hand
Learn to sketch interfaces by hand, quickly
Sketch interfaces by hand, quickly
There’s an evolution to these outcome statements, moving from passive (“think about sketching”) to active (“learn to sketch”), to simply describing the skill (“sketch”)—removing the “Learn to”, and focusing on outcome instead of the method.
Now that I’ve identified the outcomes, I identify the ways a student can attain those outcomes. I list as many of these as I can. For example, to sketch an interface quickly, a student might:
Each of these activities could be an in-class activity, an assignment, or even an examination; they are things that produce an artifact, and then that artifact can be judged.
Now, I think about how I can teach the concepts behind each of these activities. For example, to sketch a simple copy of an existing digital interface, I need to teach students to:
These become the things I teach—the content of the class itself.
So, to recap, we:
With each step, we’re moving away from things the student does, and towards things the instructor does.
These outcome statements serve three core purposes.
First, outcomes act as a guide for students. They indicate what a student can anticipate in a class. This sets expectations, so they can prepare for a certain type of learning experience. I’ve found that when students know what they are going to learn ahead of time, they can better contextualize that learning as it happens. I urge students to revisit the outcome statements (that I’ve identified on the syllabus) throughout the course. This helps them reflect on their own progress—they can see, throughout the duration of their learning experience, if they are gaining the skills and methods that I’ve articulated.
Additionally, outcomes act as a guide for me. They help me determine what course content is relevant and what types of learning interactions will be most effective. As I make curriculum decisions, I can ask myself, “Does this particular activity or content support those learning outcomes?” If the answer is no, I can rethink my planning to better serve the students.
Finally, the outcomes act as a form of handshake between me and my students. They become the agreed-upon boundaries for the class. They serve as a definition of value: I agree to teach to that value proposition, and students agree to learn from it.